Like most of America, I am in love with the musical Hamilton. I am obsessed. When the original Broadway cast recording came out late September of last year, I bought it the day it came out, and pretty much didn’t stop listening to it until Christmas, when I felt I needed to listen to holiday tunes. In the vernacular of the internet, I am definitely trash of the thing. So when this book crossed my path, I immediately had to give it a read. I started it anticipating that it wouldn’t be particularly good, and was delighted to find it quite enjoyable.
A quick sum-up for those of you not obsessed with the musical Hamilton — Alexander Hamilton was the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, a Revolutionary War vet and aide to George Washington, and previously most famously known for being killed by Vice President Aaron Burr in a duel. What the musical brings brings into play, and what the focus of this fictionalized account is, is his marriage to Elizabeth (or Eliza) Schuyler that produced a number of children, but was also marred by his affair with Maria Reynolds.
The story of The Hamilton Affair alternates between Alexander’s and Eliza’s perspectives, starting when they are young – Eliza in New York, and Alexander in the Caribbean. I will say I was a little bored with the initial chapters of their youth. I understand the author wanting to give character development and show scenes that influenced these people as adults, but I thought it dragged on a little too long. However, once Alexander and Eliza meet, I thought the book picked up the pace and was far more engaging. I could be biased because of my love of the musical (and imagining Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo in the roles in my head), but the book definitely got a lot more fun once they got together. Despite Alexander’s later affair, it was evident to those who knew them that they were a loving couple, and after her husband’s death Eliza dedicated much of her time to memorializing her beloved husband. That affection comes across so well in the novel, and when the author begins the descent that leads to Alexander’s affair the author explains his motivations in a way that makes some sense. NOT JUSTIFYING HIS ACTIONS, but giving a plausible explanation. Then the story shows the last years of Hamilton’s life, the tragedies that befell the couple, and ultimately reconciliation. (The man did call Eliza “best of wives, best of women,” a line that never fails to make me tear up.)
The author had begun the research and writing of this book before the musical gained acclaim, but I do wonder if a few lines were changed here and there in the manuscript to slyly reference the musical. At least, I found it easy to slip into singing lyrics from the musical as I read, which added to the fun of reading it. And the author for sure used Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton as a reference. I’ve read Chernow’s book, loved it, but it is mighty hefty, and for those of us who might not have the inclination to read such a thick book, this more breezy novel covering some of the same information might be far more enjoyable.
I would recommend it to any fans of the musical, or those at least mildly interested in Hamilton’s life, early American history, or just a good romantic story. It’s well-written, gives historical insights and details, and brings to life two fascinating people pivotal to the development of our country.